Imagine being dead for almost 50 years, but having left behind such an incredible legacy of material that new releases are still worthy of discussion compared to the best albums of the year. This is the case with Live in Europe, a “new” live album by the legendary Louis Armstrong.
Released by Dot Time Records, Live in Europe incorporates recordings from Louis Armstrong’s All Star Band in Nice, France in 1948 and Berlin, Germany in 1952. Both All Star groups sound great, but the best material is mostly from the dates in France. With a band that features the incredible “Fatha” Earl Hines on piano along with Arvell Shaw (bass), Jack Teagarden (trombone, vocal), Barney Bigard (clarinet), and Sid Catlett (drums), the lineup sounds confident, triumphant, and as was so often the case with Louis Armstrong, ahead of its time. Neither fans of Armstrong’s voice nor his trumpet playing will be disappointed by the material, which showcases Satchmo’s incredible range of talent.
As an unapologetic Nat King Cole fanatic, I always gravitate towards material that features Earl Hines on piano. Hines was one of the architects of jazz piano, and Cole’s primary influence. As a result, I’m excited to hear what I can find of the 1948 – 1951 period of Armstrong’s All Stars, when Hines was featured. Despite this iteration of the All Stars only lasting three years, it is clear that this period of the band is as tight and confident as could be.
That being said, the true singular standout track in the release is actually from the 1952 date in Germany. In the 1952 lineup, only Arvell Shaw remains, the rest of the group being made up of Armstrong, Trummy Young (trombone), Bob McCracken (clarinet, vocal), Marty Napoleon (piano), Cozy Cole (drums), and Velma Middleton (vocal). The album closes with a version of “A Kiss to Build A Dream On” that perhaps exceeds the studio original, one of Louis Armstrong’s greatest numbers. That track alone is worth giving the album a listen, although you won’t find any shortage of excellent live jazz on Live in Europe. Even as an introduction to Armstrong’s music, you could do a lot worse. That said, longtime Satchmo fans will enjoy the album the most.